In episode 228 of the Talk Show, Smallen up the Bezels, John Gruber and Jason Snell talked about the upcoming rumored new Macs and a number of other topics including the inevitable mechanical keyboard chat (but not baseball).
As part of the discussion about the new Mac rumors, they got into a short sidebar on the iPad vs. the iPad pro in terms of product positioning and price, as a way to show what Apple may be trying to do with their new lower-cost macs that are rumored to coming.
I’ve been living with with both an iPad pro and one of the new iPads for the last few months, literally both within arms reach here in the office. I thought it might be interesting to discuss why I did this, and how the two models compare with each other.
When Apple released the new iPad in March, I immediately ordered one: a space grey, 128Gb model with Cellular. I paid $559 for it. It’s been my primary iPad since it arrived at the start of April. At that time, I was using a 9.7″ iPad Pro (128Gb, wifi only) in 2016 for $749.
Why did I get the second iPad? The main reason: the iPad pro is wifi only, the more I’ve been working on the road — coffee shops, meetings at various organizations I’m involved with, etc — the more I’ve come to really hate having to try to connect the iPad to the network via tethering. It works, mostly, except when it doesn’t, but it’s a hassle, it tends to be slower than an on-device connection, and it wears down the phone battery if I do it too much. So I felt like I was always compromising my use by using a Wifi only device out and about. I just didn’t feel that hassle was enough to justify a second iPad pro, so I lived with it. As soon as I saw the specs for the iPad, I jumped on it.
The second reason: at the time, I was starting to design and build out my new office. I knew at that point I wanted a second iPad that lived permanently in the office, one I could set up and use to operate the various support bits in the office, like the audio and homekit scenes.
If I had picked up a second iPad Pro with the same configuration, the cost would have been $929, almost $400 more. I simply couldn’t justify that difference.
What did I lose not going with the iPad pro? I lost an additional 128Gb since the unit would have come with 256Gb. It’s a slightly slower CPU, which I don’t notice. It’s a slightly worse camera, which I rarely use. The height and weight are effectively the same; the iPad is 7.5mm thick instead of 6mm thick, and I swear when I pick it up I notice the difference, but it doesn’t in the least bother me.
The screens are different: the iPad is smaller (2048×1536 vs 2224×1668), and the iPad doesn’t come with Promotion or the Wide P3 color or the True Tone, and the iPad pro has better antireflective coatings. Here, I notice the difference: as a photographer, I love True tone and P3 and you can definitely see the difference in images between the two screens. But I can live with that. The anti-reflective coatings make the iPad harder to use out in the sun, though.
The other big difference? The iPad pro has a four speaker audio system, which I really like. The Pad has two, and the difference in both volume and quality is noticeable. This, in fact, may be the difference that bothers me most.
“Downgrading” to the iPad. Do I regret it?
In short, not one tiny bit. I love the convenience of having an iPad with cellular again. I can carry it to a board meeting or head off to a coffee shop to work, and I don’t have to futz with tethering or worry about draining the phone, or deal with the random disconnects and slowdowns. It just works. When I’m traveling, I often just use the iPad on LTE instead of hooking up to hotel WIFI, just to see how bad it is.
I do miss the better speakers. Is that worth $400? not even close, and you can buy really nice bluetooth speakers to compensate.
The screen? If I were a heavy user of the Apple pencil, I might care (the iPad pro is optimized to maximize accuracy with the pencil). I’m not, and the iPad works fine with the pencil for me. If I were processing my images on the iPad, I’d want the P3/True-tone screen, but since I’m viewing, not editing, the iPad is fine.
For most people, I think the iPad is a very persuasive device, and should work fine without real compromise. The exceptions are artists; the need for the iPad Pro really depends, I think, on how much you use the Pencil. The more you depend on the Pencil to work, the more the iPad Pro makes sense.
My advice: buy the iPad
So my advice: unless you know you need the iPad pro, buy the iPad. You’ll save a few hundred dollars and I don’t think most people will notice the difference.
I’ll also note: if I’d bought that iPad pro with cellular, I wouldn’t have done this. Having two iPads available is nice — the Pro runs stuff in the office so my other iPad is free to wander with me or be used for research as I’m working — but I certainly don’t need two iPads for how I use it. I argued with myself over cellular when I bought that iPad, decided to save the money and went WIFI only, and then a year or so later, upgraded again to fix that mistake. As it happens, I have good uses for both devices, but I wish I’d been smarter about this in the first place. For me, buying a device with cellular is now a given, not an option.
In case it’s not clear: both devices are great devices. The difference, for me, is when I go mobile with mine, a good network connection is no longer an option. Something to think about when you’re thinking about your next device.